Improving mobility for people with serious visual impairment – that’s the goal of a pair of new smart glasses developed by a team at Oxford University.
The augmented reality glasses use three-dimensional cameras that detect the structure and position of nearby objects. Software then uses that information to block out the background and highlight only what is nearest to the user.
“Smart-glasses are a piece of work we’ve been doing for the past three years at Oxford looking at ways to enhance the remaining sight that people have. When you go blind, you generally have some sight remaining, and using a combination of cameras and a see-through display, we’re able to enhance nearby objects to make them easier to see for obstacle avoidance and also facial recognition,” says Dr. Stephen Hicks of the Nuffield Department of Clinical Neurosciences at Oxford University, who is leading the research.
Hicks says the glasses are different to other products, depth perception being a unique facet of the smart-glasses technology.
“We turn that into a high contrast cartoon that we then present on the inside of a see-through pair of glasses, and we can add the person’s normal vision to the enhanced view that you can show here, and allow the person to use their remaining sight as they generally would have done to see the world in a better way,” explains Dr. Hicks.
While the glasses don’t replace lost vision, they assist with spatial awareness. Their creators hope they will help make a difference for blind and partially sighted people – a huge market with an estimated 30 million people affected in Europe alone.
Tests outside a lab setting on early prototypes have shown promise, and the final challenge before production will be to make them smaller.
The current cost of the unit, which uses commercially available hardware for the glasses and a small computer that acts essentially like a smartphone, is around 500 euros.